California Coalition for Sheriff Oversight Drives Statewide Movement for Accountability and Justice

Special to the Vanguard

Redwood City, CA – In a landmark moment for accountability and transparency of law enforcement, the California Coalition for Sheriff Oversight proudly announces the expansion of civilian oversight efforts of law enforcement statewide. What began as a grassroots movement in communities across California has now evolved into a robust movement of 12 counties dedicated to ensuring that every county in the state implements effective oversight mechanisms.

Co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of California and the ACLU of Northern California, on June 4 at 7:00 pm PT, the coalition will hold an online panel titled “Balancing Power with Responsibility,” as their kick off event. The event is an opportunity to hear from a panel of experts about the value of oversight and how it works. The main speakers include California State Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Sonoma County Director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) John Alden, Member of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Board (NACOLE) and SF Sheriff Oversight Board Jayson Wechter, and Northern California ACLU Representative Marshal Arnwine. Several coalition counties will also share their own county’s experience setting up oversight.

With the passage of AB 1185 in 2020, authored by California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), California took a monumental step towards establishing transparency and accountability of law enforcement while rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. McCarty said, “I authored AB 1185 to ensure accountability and proper oversight over law enforcement practices. These bills create much needed transparency of peace officers and bring opportunities to rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

This legislation serves as a guiding light for those affected by systemic injustices and emphasizes the state’s commitment to upholding the principles of equal protection for all. “Expanding civilian oversight across California is a critical step toward true accountability and justice,” said Stephanie Doute, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “This coalition empowers communities to demand transparency and ensures that sheriff departments serve and protect everyone fairly. Together, we are driving a powerful movement to strengthen trust and integrity in law enforcement statewide”

The need for oversight is not merely a passing trend; it is an urgent imperative rooted in the tragic taking of lives and the exorbitant cost to taxpayers. Counties pay out millions of dollars in settlements—San Mateo County paid out $5.4 million in 2022, Los Angeles paid almost $52M in 2019, and Riverside just settled a case for $7.5M. In 2019, Santa Cruz County and the City of Capitola paid $2.5 million to the family of Luke Smith. These sobering realities underscore the critical importance of robust oversight mechanisms to prevent further tragedies and ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in community safety and well-being.

Sonoma County’s oversight commission provides an example of the positive impact civilian oversight can have on law enforcement practices. Since its establishment in 2015, IOLERO has influenced the Sheriff’s Office to make several policy changes. Additionally, IOLERO has increased oversight staffing and budget through a ballot measure passed by 65% of the voters. However, the work is far from over; it is an ongoing effort of constant improvement and refinement.

“Sonoma County’s oversight commission has set a high standard for accountability and transparency in law enforcement,” remarked Carl Tennenbaum of Community Law Enforcement Accountability Now of Sonoma County (CLEAN). “As we expand oversight efforts statewide, we must build upon the successes and continue to advocate for stronger oversight mechanisms in every county.”

The California Coalition for Sheriff Oversight calls upon all Californians to join us in this historic movement. Whether you reside in a county with established oversight or are part of a community advocating for change, your voice and involvement are crucial. Typically, counties have created an oversight commission after tragedies occur. The coalition urges county supervisors to form an oversight body before it becomes a costly problem. Allyssa Victory, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California remarked, “Civilian oversight is about giving county residents a voice.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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